Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 10

Saint Catherine of GenoaArticle

Pains of Purgatory – The Pain of Loss – Saint Catherine of Genoa – Saint Teresa – Father Nieremberg

After having heard the theologians and doctors of the Church, let us listen to doctors of another kind; they are saints who speak of the sufferings of the other life, and who relate what God has made known to them by supernatural communication. Saint Catherine of Genoa in her treatise on Purgatory says, “The souls endure a torment so extreme that no tongue can describe it, nor could the understanding conceive the least notion of it, if God did not make it known by a particular grace.” {Chap. 2, 8). “No tongue,” she adds, “can express, no mind form any idea of what Purgatory is. As to the suffering, it is equal to that of Hell.”

Saint Teresa, in the Castle of the Soul, speaking of the pain of loss, expresses herself thus: “The pain of loss, or the privation of the sight of God, exceeds all the most excruciating sufferings we can imagine, because the souls urged on towards God as to the center of their aspiration, are continually repulsed by His Justice. Picture to yourself a shipwrecked mariner who, after having long battled with the waves, comes at last within reach of the shore, only to find himself constantly thrust back by an invisible hand. What torturing agonies! Yet those of the souls in Purgatory are a thousand times greater.” (Part 6, chap. 1 1).

Father Nieremberg, of the Company of Jesus, who died in the odor of sanctity at Madrid in 1658, relates a fact that occurred at Treves, and which was recognized, says Father Rossignoli {Merveilles, 69), by the Vicar General of the diocese as possessing all the characteristics of truth.

On the Feast of All Saints, a young girl of rare piety saw appear before her a lady of her acquaintance who had died some time previous. The apparition was clad in white, with a veil of the same color on her head, and holding in her hand a long rosary, a token of the tender devotion she had always professed towards the Queen of Heaven. She implored the charity of her pious friend, saying that she had made a vow to have three Masses celebrated at the altar of the Blessed Virgin, and that, not having been able to accomplish her vow, this debt added to her sufferings. She then begged her to pay it in her place. The young person willingly granted the alms asked of her, and when the three Masses had been celebrated, the deceased again appeared, expressing her joy and gratitude. She ever continued to appear each month of November, and almost always in the church. Her friend saw her there in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, overwhelmed with an awe of which nothing can give an idea; not yet being able to see God face to face, she seemed to wish to indemnify herself by contemplating Him at least under the Eucharistic species. During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, at the moment of the elevation, her face became so radiant that she might have been taken for a seraph descended from Heaven. The young girl, filled with admiration, declared that she had never seen anything so beautiful.

Meanwhile time passed, and, notwithstanding the Masses and prayers offered for her, that holy soul remained in her exile, far from the Eternal Tabernacles. On December 3, Feast of Saint Francis Xavier, her protectress going to receive Communion at the Church of the Jesuits, the apparition accompanied her to the Holy Table, and then remained at her side during the whole time of thanksgiving, as though to participate in the happiness of Holy Communion and enjoy the presence of Jesus Christ.

On December 8, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, she again returned, but so brilliant that her friend could not look at her. She visibly approached the term of her expiation. Finally, on December 10, during Holy Mass, she appeared in a still more wonderful state. After making a profound genuflexion before the altar, she thanked the pious girl for her prayers, and rose to Heaven in company with her guardian angel.

Some time previous, this holy soul had made known that she suffered nothing more than the pain of loss, or the privation of God; but she added that that privation caused her intolerable torture. This revelation justifies the words of Saint Chrysostom in his 47th Homily: “Imagine,” he says, “all the torments of the world, you will not find one equal to the privation of the beatific vision of God. ”

In fact, the torture of the pain of loss, of which we now treat, is, according to all the saints and all the doctors, much more acute than the pain of sense. It is true that, in the present life, we cannot understand this, because we have too little knowledge of the Sovereign Good for which we are created; but, in the other life, that ineffable Good seems to souls what bread is to a man famished with hunger, or fresh water to one dying with thirst, like health to a sick person tortured by long suffering; it excites the most ardent desires, which torment without being able to satisfy them.

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